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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cooch's Bridge, William Maxwell and Honor

We can note the 235 anniversary on September 3 of the only major action of the Revolutionary War in Delaware, the Battle of Cooch's Bridge (sometimes Cooche's Bridge).

The British had landed at Head of Elk in Maryland on August 25, 1777, following their departure from New York, and moved northward. George Washington put General William Maxwell in command of 700 Continentals and 1000 Pennsylvania and Delaware militia to keep track of enemy movement. They took position on Iron Hill and nearby Cooch's Bridge. Following an ambush of Captain Johann Ewald's Hessian troops by Americans, the Hessians, joined by British Light Infantry and Grenadiers, drove the Americans off Iron Hill towards Cooch's Bridge.  Overwhelmed, and after futile skirmishing, Maxwell was forced to retreat to join the main army at Wilmington. The Americans lost 24 men and officers, the Hessians and British, 3-4 killed.

It's a battle that lets us pause a moment to consider one of the lesser known but nonetheless important American generals, William Maxwell.  He fought at the major actions until the Battle of Springfield, after which he precipitously resigned that same day, June 12,  1780.  Congress accepted his resignation and he was not able to get reinstated.  His 19th century biographer, J.H. Griffith claims the reason for his resignation "has always been a mystery, historically speaking . . . and the only plausible reason given is the fact that his merits had excited jealousy and envy among some of the officers, who boasted a more aristocratic lineage than he could claim.  He served a single term in the New Jersey State Legislature.  So, when one of this class succeeded in obtaining promotion over his head, he felt that he had no other alternative but to resign in order to save his honor and not compromise his manhood."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fort Stanwix and Oriskany

This August marks the 235th anniversary of the siege of Fort Stanwix and battle at Oriskany.

Today the fort is a national park in Rome, New York, along the Mohawk River.  Oriskany is a few miles away.

As part of General John Burgoyne's northern campaign from Canada into New York, with Albany as its goal, Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger led approximately 2,000 men (consisting of British Regulars, Hessians, Canadians, Loyalists and Iroquois) as well as several pieces of artillery to Fort Stanwix (now known as Rome, New York).   He laid siege to Fort Stanwix, then known as Fort Schuyler, on August 3.  The fort controlled the Mohawk Valley and was the gateway to the west. The fort was garrisoned by about 600 to 750 Continental soldiers from New York under General Peter Gansevoort.   Colonel Peter Gansevoort was in command of the 3rd New York Regiment at the fort.  Early on, met with a demand for surrender, he said "It is my determined defend this fort and garrison to the last extremity, in behalf of the United American States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies." 

The siege lasted from August 2 to August 22, 1777.  On August 22, the British lifted the siege, and St. Leger failed to reinforce Burgoyne or otherwise assist at Saratoga.  Oriskany was an ambush of the American forces and a bloody battle that fostered destruction of the Iroquois Confederacy.  The British and Indians suffered severe casualties and the Americans held the field.  Not only was the Revolution a civil war between Patriot and Loyalist forces, but it became a civil war among the Native Americans as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Aliens Among Us--Chestnut Neck

Between October 6 and October 15, 1778, two of the more colorful military leaders of the Revolution clashed in a small town along the Mullica River, not far from contemporary Atlantic City.  Captain Patrick Ferguson (later Major, and killed at King's Mountain) led a force of 400 soldiers consisting of the 5th Regiment British Foot and the Third Battalion New Jersey Volunteers, to cut off the privateering activity in the area.  Washington sent General Casimir Pulaski and his Legion to protect the wharf at Chestnut Neck.  Ferguson found a small number of militia at Chestnut Neck, then  a 12 house town and commercial wharf, and easily defeated them with minimal casualties, on October 6.  On October 4, Pulaski left Trenton on October 8, reached Tuckerton (then called Middle of the Shore).  After a week of watching each other, Ferguson surprised one of Pulaski's outposts on October 15 with 250 men, and in essentially a bayonet attack, destroyed the outpost and left.

Pulaski was one of the various foreigners that were commissioned by Congress to serve in the Continental Army, like his Polish compatriot, Tadeusz Kościuszko.  Kosciuszko served as an engineer; Pulaski had been a cavalry officer.  He would be mortally wounded at the Battle of Savannah a year later.  This monument in the area of where he fought at this obscure battle in New Jersey serves as a reminder that the United States has always depended upon "the aliens among us."


Sunday, August 12, 2012

The End of the Revolutionary War

There seems to be some disagreement over the actual last land battle of the Revolutionary War.  Contrary to what many lay people seem to believe, hostilities did not end at Yorktown in October 1781.  Howard Peckham's invaluable The Toll of Independence notes dozens of engagements in 1782, resulting in 277 American deaths,  124 wounded, with 80 captured; he lists only 5 land engagements for 1783.  Among the final actions, the Battle of Cedar Creek Bridge in Stafford Township, New Jersey, is his last listed for 1782 and among the six final "engagements" of the war.  Here we see a view of the area, with the Cedar Bridge Tavern (now a private residence) glimpsed to the left and the creek at the bend in the road in the center of the picture.
The engagement occurred on December 27, 1782, when local militia under Captains Richard Shreve and Edward Thomas sought out the hated Loyalist, Captain John Bacon.  They and their men stopped at the tavern, were surprised themselves by Bacon and his forces, and when they were gaining the upper hand, Bacon was supported by fresh Loyalists, which facilitated Bacon's escape.  The Patriots lost 1 killed and 1 wounded; 1 Loyalist was killed, 4 wounded, and 7 taken prisoner.  Shreve's militia did manage to kill Bacon on April 3, 1783, Peckham notes, after the peace treaty was signed.  The Stafford Township Historical Society lists this as the "last battle" of the war.

Whether it owns that distinction or not of being "last," the place remains sacred: at least one man on each side of the civil war divide lost his life here.  While the bitterness of the internecine nature of this war is often discussed in the context of the Carolinas, here in "southern" Jersey, the divide was often just as broad and brutal.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nathan Hale and Revolutionary Iconography

This statue of Nathan Hale stands at the entrance of the Chicago Tribune Building in Chicago, Illinois.  I understand that the last surviving member of the Boston Tea Party is buried in Chicago, and there is a statue honoring George Washington, Haym Solomon and Robert Morris on Wacker Drive.  Chicago was not the scene of any notable Revolutionary War battle, yet these statues serve to knit together the country in its common recollection of the iconographic figures of the war and the era.  This statue is a copy of the one at Yale University.  Interestingly enough, it is reported that there were no contemporary portraits of him, and this was based on description.  Hale was hanged in New York shortly after the Kip's Bay landing by the British.